Health impact of wildfires in California

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EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) -- The wildfires in California are still burning and still spreading. The Thomas Fire is only 40% contained. Tyler sat down with Dr. Arnold to get a better idea of the dangers associated with wildfires. Their question and answer can be found below.

Photo: VCFD PIO / Twitter

Some of the firefighters are working around the clock, hardly taking a break and their endurance is being pushed to the max. At what point do they need to rest before they can keep working?

Dr. Alicia Arnold, “Many firefighters work 24 hour shifts at a time. One study of firefighters showed a decrease in alertness and an increase in reaction time over a 24 hours shift. So there’s no question that these individuals are being pushed physically working long hours during these urgent situations.”

The gear these firefighters are wearing is no joke. Safety is the #1 priority for them. How careful do they need to be? How fast can smoke impact the body?”

Dr. Alicia Arnold, “Smoke inhalation can cause harm from multiple ways: heat injury, chemical injury, or just by not allowing you to get enough oxygen. Smoke contains tiny harmful particles, carbon monoxide, as well as formaldehyde. Inhalation injury symptoms may worsen quickly or not even show up at all until hours or a day or so later, so it’s important to take all the safety precautions.”

The people living in the area are being told to evacuate, not only because of the fires unpredictability, but because of the smoke from the fires. Can just a little bit of smoke in the air pose a health risk?

Dr. Alicia Arnold, “The biggest health risk is from the particles in the smoke. Smoke exposure can cause symptoms that you may expect, like burning eyes and a cough, but it can worsen some chronic diseases, such as heart and lung disease. Paying attention to air quality information, staying indoors and using an indoor air cleaner, or using a special particulate mask can help protect you.”

Are there any long term affects from smoke inhalation?

Dr. Alicia Arnold, “If there has been significant smoke damage to the lungs, there can be a risk of secondary infections in the lungs and a risk of hoarseness, lung scarring, and shortness of breath which may be permanent.”

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